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How Can Schools Accommodate Trans Students? State Ed. Dept. Has New Guide

By Amy Zimmer | July 21, 2015 12:28pm
 Ruby Mendosa, age 39 attends the annual NYC Trans Day of Action on June 28, 2013.
Ruby Mendosa, age 39 attends the annual NYC Trans Day of Action on June 28, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Keith

The New York State Education Department released new guidelines to help schools accommodate transgender and gender non-conforming students.  

They are intended to help schools foster educational environments that are safe and inclusive, as well as helping them comply with local, state and federal laws concerning bullying, harassment, discrimination and student privacy, according to the document released Monday.

While situations must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, officials said, the guidelines offer real-life examples from New York schools to illustrate potential scenarios and remedies. They note that schools must work closely with students and their families in creating an appropriate plan, since some transgender students might feel more supported and safe if other students are aware of their status, while others don't even want their parents to know.

In one example outlined in the guidelines, the parents of a preschool-age child assigned "female" at birth noted that the child always identified as a boy, wanting short hair and rejecting "something a girl would wear," for instance. When entering kindergarten, the child said to his parent, "You have to tell them when I go to kindergarten that I'm a boy."

In this scenario, the state recommends that schools respect a child's own gender identity.

"A student who says she is a girl and wishes to be regarded that way throughout the school day should be respected and treated like any other girl," the guidelines said. "So too with a student who says he is a boy and wishes to be regarded that way throughout the school day."

Another example cites a high school transgender female student who was given access to the female changing facility but was uncomfortable because there were no private changing areas. In this case, the school added curtains to one row of benches to create a private area for any students who wished to use them.

When a child changes gender identity, it can be a challenging process that "requires community buy-in," according to a WNYC series on that focused on a child going by the name Q, who transitioned over the course of second grade from identifying as a girl to a boy.

At Carroll Gardens' Brooklyn New School, where Q just finished third grade, the staff did some research after Q started using the boys' bathroom and concluded that students should be allowed to use the bathroom of their gender identity rather than the gender they were assigned at birth.

The state's guidelines come a year after the city issued transgender guidelines for schools, which specify that students should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identities.

The guidelines follow a report in June from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which found that many transgender students across the state face harassment at school.